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What can you learn when you go beyond HCAHPS?

Since their inception in 2006, HCAHPS surveys have been a critical feedback mechanism for hospitals. Survey responses give hospital leaders the crucial data they need to improve their services. And across the country, HCAHPS has brought transparency to the industry, spurring a renewed focus on the patient experience.

We at NRC Health consider that a major victory.

No one challenges the validity or the importance of HCAHPS surveys. But the government-mandated HCAHPS methodology has some limitations. While the data is robust and useful, if you rely solely on HCAHPS responses you may be missing out on some opportunities for improvements.

Here’s how.

  1. HCAHPS surveys don’t fully reflect patient feedback preferences
    Patients want to tell you how their care experiences have gone—and they want to tell you right away. NRC Health’s research shows that 73% of patients prefer to give their feedback within a few days of the incident. A typical HCAHPS survey, however, might take four to six weeks to reach them. We’ve also discovered that patients overwhelmingly prefer to give their feedback through email which CMS hasn’t yet approved for HCAHPS surveys.So HCAHPS reaches patients much later than they’d like, and not in their favored mode of communication. This has the ability to create a chilling effect on their responses, which might explain why the national average HCAHPS response rate is only 29% per year.The low response rate, in turn, creates another issue for hospital leadership, namely…
  1. Data cynicism from clinicians
    It’s a common problem in hospitals: skepticism from physicians about the data they get back from HCAHPS surveys. Clinicians have a sharp eye for statistical evidence; it’s a fundamental tenet of their training. And sometimes they believe that HCAHPS data falls short of their standards.Low response rates from HCAHPS typically translate to low n-numbers for individual hospital surveys. That can give clinicians pause before they decide to integrate HCAHPS feedback into their work.Furthermore, some physicians argue that the survey lag time can distance patients from the episode of care. After six weeks, a patient may not recall the event accurately, or they might have forgotten any essential points for improvement that they may have noticed at the time.This cynicism over HCAHPS data can make it hard for hospital leadership to build a persuasive case for change.
  1. No time for service recovery
    If a patient had a poor experience in your hospital, how soon would you want to reach out to him or her? Ideally, your staff would be able to rectify any missteps within a day or two, so that’s probably the timeframe within which you’d want to contact patients.But that’s not possible with mailed-in HCAHPS surveys. They might take a month or more to reach the patient’s mailbox, and by then it may be too late—they’ll have already decided to visit a different hospital next time.

The next step in feedback: Real-time

HCAHPS results will always be an important metric for your hospital. But at NRC Health, we believe it’s important to supplement them with more timely feedback methodologies. It’s urgent to hear from your patients immediately after their experience.

“The way the world is now, with mobile technology and social media, people are used to instant communication,” says Andy Gerch, NRC Health’s vice president of business development. “And it’s our responsibility to meet people where they are. It’s not just the best thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

That’s why we developed Real-time. It’s a system that enables you to reach 100% of your patients immediately via email, SMS, or phone, gathering insights through open-ended questions. You’ll get results in hours, not weeks, which is exactly what physicians—and patients—want.

Phoenix Children’s Hospital uses Real-time to banish data cynicism

As is the case with many hospitals, Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) wanted to see higher response rates and surveys administered closer to the care event.

The leadership team at PCH knew that if they could deliver high volumes of timely data, they could secure enthusiastic buy-in from their clinical staff. That’s what made NRC Health’s Real-time so appealing to them.

NRC Health’s system delivered exactly what they needed. In 12 months, PCH clinics saw an 800% increase in survey responses, generating over 28,000 responses in a single year.

These results cleared away any lingering doubts about the data.

“The amount and timeliness of the data received using Real-time eliminates the problems surrounding small n-size and three-month-old results,” said Steven Spalding, MD, PCH’s chief clinical integration and medical officer.

New feedback energized the PCH team

PCH’s staff used the new data to drive remarkable changes in hospital operations.

Directors and managers shared their Real-time division reports with each other, which gave providers a meaningful way to compare their results. From there, lower performers spontaneously sought out advice from their high-performing peers. The element of internal transparency drove clinical improvements as physicians embraced the feedback from their patients.

Even better, the rapid results from Real-time’s surveys empowered PCH’s staff to streamline their service recovery. In many cases, four to six weeks would be too long a response period to bring an unsatisfied patient back into the fold. But with Real-time, PCH’s recovery outreach became highly optimized, occurring within two days of the care event.

You can read more about Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s remarkable results here.

The power of Human Understanding

Talking to your patients via Real-time is the best way to capture the full account of their experience at your facility.

The speed and volume of Real-time responses will assure staff that they have data they can rely on. They’ll be more motivated to improve their work, so that patients can rely on you.

“If patients believe in us and have great experiences, that’s going to improve their outcomes as well as our business,” said PCH’s physician-in-chief, Stacy Nicholson, MD, MPH.

What improvements would become possible for your business if you found the right way to listen to your customers?

For over 35 years, NRC Health has helped healthcare organizations illuminate and improve the moments that matter to patients, residents, physicians, nurses, and staff. Our empathetic heritage, proprietary methods, and holistic approach enable our partners to better understand the people they care for and design experiences that inspire loyalty and trust.

Find out more about Real-time feedback at nrchealth.com.